Ableton Live Quick Tip: Creating Inspiration With The MIDI Devices

Today’s Ableton tutorial is all about finding or creating inspiration on those days when writer’s block is kicking your ass.  Anyone that writes music on a regular basis is going to run into this problem once in a while, but for working professionals, simply choosing not to write isn’t always an option.

If you have a looming deadline for writing a little theme song or doing a small piece of sound design, it’s easy to forget that (for better or for worse) modern digital music production tools can even start our songs for us.

Randomizer & Scale: Two peas in a pod

If you use Ableton Live, there are some handy tools to do just that, and today I want to cover some extremely basic yet effective uses for two of them:  Randomizer and Scale.

I know some people are going to object passionately to the idea of using a tool to generate melodic ideas out of thin air.  However, I have no desire to turn this into an exhaustive, academic discussion about whether the machines have indeed taken over ala “Terminator,” so please keep your comments on track with creative or technical suggestions.

In the following video, I show you how to turn a simple rhythm that never deviates from a single pitch into multiple melodic ideas as well as recording this randomness so that you can further revise the resulting MIDI phrases:

Ableton Live Quick Tip: Creating Inspiration With The MIDI Devices by

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9 Responses to “Ableton Live Quick Tip: Creating Inspiration With The MIDI Devices”

  1. Ka§parAugust 27, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    I don’t necessarily agree with people over criticizing the use of artificial means of melody inception, mostly because a lot of the best synth lines of the past century came out of random patching of modular synths, that only proves that randomness means, more often than not, you will allow variables into your creative process that would otherwise not penetrate it.

    It is creative as a gesture, to even just set your options on the randomizing devices. I often chain arpegiators with different types of note cuts, sometimes more than ten in a row. If these tools are here, they are meant to be used… we would otherwise NOT be able to generate the melody ourselves.

    • NickAugust 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

      Nicely said, Kaspar.

  2. Edwin James LynchSeptember 21, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Hey Nick. This is great (and very easy to understand). Like Kaspar, I’m very much into generative music and believe the best music, yet to be “written,” won’t be generated by a human being! But I digress 😉 … One could randomise velocity with your example by lopping the bottom off the outputted midi (say octaves 0-2) and make a new channel with some kind of bass instrument. The top 2 octaves could also be split off to a bell or flute-like instrument and then, of course, you could set each channel to randomise the clips while you drink Russian Caravan Tea alfresco-style 🙂

  3. EinarDecember 13, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    The way I see it, it doesn’t matter where the melody came from, your head or your MIDI devices – ultimately it’s a human being that makes the decision “that’s cool, I´ll use that”, and the song either sucks or it’s great.

    It’s the same type of situation as what seperates a great DJ from a not so great one – both are playing other people’s music, but one understands what goes together and one does not.

    • NickDecember 14, 2010 at 1:54 am #

      well said 🙂

  4. AshJanuary 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Great tutorial. Was completely stuck on melody ideas, but now I have many! 😀

    • AshJanuary 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

      Also where can I find the follow up vid to this one as mentioned?

  5. JohnSeptember 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    I’m a little late to this video hehe, but I found it incredible useful. I have to take my time writing tracks as I have no ‘traditional’ music skills. I can’t read music or play anything, but I can program notes until they sound correct. These tools help me make sense of my efforts.

    Nick, will you be doing a series on this? I’d love to see a series on how to write melodies, chord progressions etc for musical novices or even how to arrange music if thats even possible?

  6. FrankFebruary 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    I think we have been using randomness to make music for a lot longer than computers have been around. I have heard of old blues player talking about the sounds of a horse clip clopping down the road inspiring a rhythm or rain dripping into a pie pan making a melody. There is nothing artificial about it. Like Einar said the human makes the decision about what stays and what goes, what is good and what is bad.

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